We had a reader ask about why this whole Russia-Ukraine situation even started. Right now, a lot of people are painting Putin as mad – but let’s take some time to explore Russia’s truth, however valid or invalid you think it is.
NATO is a security alliance created by countries like the US, UK, EU and Canada initially to try and contain the spread of communism when the Soviet Union was around. Now it’s more a group that protects its members and their security than anything else.
Russia has been open about its concerns with NATO’s move eastward. When it started in 1949, the pact only had 12 members. Now it has Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, which used to be a part of the Warsaw Pact, a security alliance dominated by the Soviet Union as a counterweight to NATO. It also includes former parts of the Soviet Union like Estonia and Latvia. This meant the placement of American military weaponry in these states – something hugely unpopular among the Russian public.
It’s important to note, though, NATO doesn’t recruit countries but has an open-door policy that allows nations to apply and get feedback before it’s put to a vote. But, ever since more members from Eastern Europe have been joining, there have been warnings.
In 1995, Biden’s CIA director, William J. Burns (back then a political officer), warned of the dangers. When Clinton moved to bring Poland and the Czech Republic into NATO, Burns said that the decision was “premature at best, and needlessly provocative at worst.”
Then in 2008, Burns, who was the American ambassador to Moscow, said that he had “… yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.”
The thing is, there were no talks of Ukraine entering NATO any time soon. In fact, some NATO members, like France, had significant objections to Ukraine’s entry into the alliance. And, to join NATO, you need every single member’s consent.
When Putin declared a special military operation against Ukraine, some key parts of his speech that referenced this included:
“I am referring to the expansion of the NATO to the east, moving its military infrastructure closer to Russian borders. It is well known that for 30 years, we have persistently and patiently tried to reach an agreement with the leading NATO countries on the principles of equal and inviolable security in Europe. In response to our proposals, we constantly faced either cynical deception and lies, or attempts to pressure and blackmail, while NATO, despite all our protests and concerns, continued to steadily expand. The war machine is moving and, I repeat, it is coming close to our borders.
“As NATO expands to the east, with every passing year, the situation for our country is getting worse and more dangerous. Moreover, in recent days the leadership of NATO has been openly talking about the need to speed up, force the advancement of the alliance’s infrastructure to the borders of Russia. In other words, they are doubling down on their position. We can no longer just watch what is happening. It would be absolutely irresponsible on our part.
“Further expansion of the NATO infrastructure and the beginning of military development in Ukraine’s territories are unacceptable for us. The problem, of course, is not NATO itself – it is only an instrument of US foreign policy. The problem is that in the territories adjacent to us – territories that were historically ours, I emphasise – an “anti-Russia” hostile to us is being created, placed under full external control; [it] is intensively settled by the armed forces of NATO countries and is supplied with the most modern weapons.”
Now NATO has its own truth as well. It has written up a document with all of Russia’s claims and its argument against them.
For example, for Russia’s claim that NATO’s expansion threatens it, the organization has countered:
“Fact: NATO is a defensive alliance. Our purpose is to protect our member states. Every country that joins NATO undertakes to uphold its principles and policies. This includes the commitment that ‘NATO does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia,’ as reaffirmed at the Brussels Summit this year.
NATO enlargement is not directed against Russia. Every sovereign nation has the right to choose its own security arrangements. This is a fundamental principle of European security, one that Russia has also subscribed to and should respect. In fact, after the end of the Cold War, Russia committed to building an inclusive European security architecture, including through the Charter of Paris, the establishment of the OSCE, the creation of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and the NATO-Russia Founding Act.”